Transition to Desert Begins

Central coast lettuce growers were in the turnaround time for the second crop of fall lettuce and still feeling the impacts of unusual weather that has followed them all season. Two sudden weeks of extreme heat were countered by unusually cool temperatures and growers are now seeing some maturity problems in their fall lettuce crops, according to field men.

“What happens is the lettuce gets age on it but it’s not quite mature,” said Gene Spencer, an independent agronomist and PCA in the Salinas Valley. “You’ve got head lettuce that is not quite ready to cut because of its size but you’ve got age on it so the growth slows down. It’s got more days on it than it has size on it, so it can make for a poor quality crop.

In the Central San Joaquin Valley, planting of fall vegetables was well underway by early September. Growers in August planted fall vegetable crops in spite of lingering heat, sources said. Lettuce and cole crops are in the ground and progressing well. Lettuce stands were reportedly up and strong as thinning crews hit the fields.

“It’s still very hot and I was surprised to see some of the broccoli being transplanted even in late July but it’s looking great,” said Michelle Le Strange, UC vegetable crops farm advisor in Fresno and Tulare counties.

“There are some worm issues that we are seeing more of earlier in the season than usual, but it’s being dealt with,” she said.

“We did have quite a bit of heat which led to split sets, so the crop is a little split and we might have to wait a little longer to get maximum yield,” Le Strange said. “But our early yields were pretty good. Nobody is really complaining about our yields in Fresno County, which is a good surprise.”

The July heat wave took a heavy tool on statewide production. The Sept. 1 crop report estimated statewide yields at 10.0 million tons, down 12 percent from the May forecast. Processors expect this production to come from 279,000 acres producing an average of 35.84 tons per acre.

Some growers believe the state crop will not reach 10 million tons and may be only a shade over 9 million tons. “The late harvested stuff is pretty ugly,” said Merced County producer Daniel Burns.

This will send processors out this winter looking for more tonnage. “It is nice for a change to have canneries knocking on our door looking for tomatoes for next year,” said Gary Hughes of San Joaquin, Calif.

Tomato PCAs earlier in the year managed dodder weed problems and now are turning their attention to fungicide sprays to protect their late season tomatoes against black mold. Powdery mildew remained another late season concern.

In desert winter vegetable fields, cauliflower in early September had been out from transplant for a couple weeks along with celery and cabbage. Broccoli was direct seeded in the early part of September as well.

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